Statistically, the Jacksonville Jaguars had arguably the best defense in the NFL this season. But they’ve allowed a lot of points in some recent games, and old friend Jimmy Garoppolo was one of them to light it up for the San Francisco 49ers.
The Jags boast serious talent at all levels of the defense. Calais Campbell is one of the leagues’ premier pass rushers, linebacker Telvin Smith earned First Team All-Pro honors (and definitely deserves the Patriots’ respect), and they have the NFL’s best 1-2 punch at cornerback with Jalen Ramey and A.J. Bouye.
But when they played the 49ers in Week 16, the Jaguars let up 44 points, including five touchdowns to Garoppolo and the offense. Tom Brady’s former backup mainly picked the Jags apart with passes to tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who combined for eight catches, 118 yards, and a touchdown.
If Jacksonville lets Rob Gronkowski run free for that kind of production, they’re going to have a bad time.
Patriots vs Jaguars Defense: How Will The Pats Exploit Them?
It will be hard for the Pats to find a singular weakness to pick on as Brady surveys the Jaguars defense. But considering that the Jags typically play a cover-3 scheme, similar to that of Pete Carroll’s Seahawks and Dan Quinn’s Falcons, Brady and Bill Belichick aren’t exactly unfamiliar with them. And even if Brady picks up on man coverage, there’s a good chance he and Josh McDaniels will be able to scheme it up to find openings – especially over the middle of the field.
Patriots writer Evan Lazar went more in-depth on Twitter on Monday to show certain plays that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers ran with Garoppolo. He believes that Belichick, McDaniels and Brady could use similar tactics. Not just to open things up for Gronk or the running backs, but for the receivers as well.
Here’s a blitz play, in which Garoppolo gets a throw off to Marquise Goodwin in single coverage:
A few examples. #Jaguars bring a heavy blitz which takes the LBs out of the underneath zones. They motion Goodwin in, tips off the man coverage. Goodwin runs an in with Ramsey playing with outside leverage. Great throw by Jimmy under pressure. Break the tackle, get that YAC. pic.twitter.com/4ekpFFZEjD— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 15, 2018
The Jags may not blitz as much against Brady and keep their linebackers in the middle. But Garoppolo also exploited those formations, such as with this throw where he found a soft spot. As Lazar points out, you could picture Danny Amendola running pretty much the same exact play:
Here’s another against zone this time. They flood the area to space out the LBs. Not a great drop by Posluszny. Find the soft spot and sit down. Could see Amendola running either of these routes. #Jaguars #Patriots pic.twitter.com/YLq77u08rs— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 15, 2018
The 49ers also beat the Jags defense for 17 yards with this bootleg pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Brady not run an actual bootleg or throw to James Develin that much, but he could run a similar play to the fake double-reverse that they ran against the Titans, where Dion Lewis burned the Titans for 31 yards.
The #49ers had a lot of success throwing to FBs and TEs in the flat off bootleg play action. The #Jaguars defense bit hard on the fakes multiple times. Could see the #Patriots do variations of this more focused on the RBs. pic.twitter.com/v8YbDcMp7M— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 15, 2018
Patriots vs Jaguars Defense: What About The Run?
Speaking of Lewis, he could have some success against the Jags if their regular season numbers are any indication. They ranked just 26th in yards per rush (4.3). The first two rounds of the playoffs? Pretty much the same, as the Bills and Steelers combined for 213 yards on 50 carries (a 4.26-yard average).
In general, expect Brady and the Patriots to spread the Jaguars out and either run the ball up the middle or exploit soft zones in the intermediate area of the field. Considering that the Steelers’ success on offense came more with their big-play receivers, it’s more likely that the 49ers gave the Patriots a “blueprint” to beat them.
But in any event, it may not be easy for the Patriots anyway. Even if they draw up some brilliant schemes, they’re still dealing with some serious talent on the Jaguars defense.